Apparently both Microsoft and Sony are going to focus more on free-to-play games, and in-app purchases, with their next-generation consoles due out at the end of the year.
In other words, they are moving further towards the tablet/smartphone/casual model of gaming, and away from the big up-front price stickers that Xbox and PlayStation games have always had.
This is according to Mark Rein, Vice President of Epic Games, who shared his insight into the matter at the Game Horizon conference in Newcastle.
According to Joystiq, Rein said: “The next-gen consoles are going to be fully embracing the free-to-play and these IAP-type [in-app purchasing] business models. So in case you don’t know that I’m putting that out there. Sony and Microsoft are both going heavily in that area.”
When pressed for evidence of this, Rein simply stated: “Well, I’m telling you. I’m telling you what they’re telling developers.”
While on the one hand, free-to-play games are a cool idea, and this will have many console gamers rubbing their hands with glee and thinking “woo, free games,” there are definitely dangers here.
Most notably games which are free to begin with, but pretty much require unlocks once you’re hooked and well into the game.
The whole philosophy of in-app purchasing of items/abilities – character power – is also quite controversial when it comes to multiplayer games. Although the world is clearly headed this way – there have always been unofficial ways to buy gold in MMORPGs for example, and Diablo III embraced this and made it official.
The central problem is that when you pay for a game with your £40 up front, you know you’re getting a full, quality game experience, with no further outlay. Well… except perhaps for the expansion DLC – micro-transactions are already impacting full-priced triple A titles, it’s true.
But this sort of thing could be set to get much worse.
With free-to-play, you may find you get a game where you have to pay out dribs and drabs constantly, for various reasons, to experience it without, say, some mindless grinding sections.
It’s an ethical issue for game designers, really, but as with everything, there are developers out there who will want to maximise their cash, whatever it takes.